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Ten things to expect when you move to Tuscany

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Ten things to expect when you move to Tuscany
The view from Pienza, Tuscany. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local
14:45 CET+01:00
Life in this famously beautiful region really is just like the movies - sometimes.

With its rolling hills, pretty hilltop villages, incredible history, and famous cuisine, no wonder Tuscany is a place so many people dream of moving to – and do move to.

Call it the Under the Tuscan Sun effect, or just the allure of the region, but statistics show that people from English-speaking countries are particularly drawn to Tuscany.

The region is the third most popular for Anglophone expats to move to after Lazio or Lombardy. Around 6,700 people from the UK, US, Ireland, Canada, Australia and South Africa currently live in Tuscany, more than half of them from the UK alone.

Meanwhile, Americans flock to Florence: US citizens total more than 1,100 there, making it one of the few places in Italy where Americans outnumber Brits.

But as they find out, living in Tuscany is very different from visiting. While some people find their Tuscan dreams coming true, others struggle with the move when it doesn’t turn out as expected.

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Siena, Tuscany. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local

Like anywhere else, even Tuscany has its drawbacks. While focusing too much on the negatives won’t help, just knowing what to expect in reality can stop culture shock from hitting too hard.

I’ve been living in Tuscany for two years now. I feel very lucky to be here, but my life here is not exactly like most people imagine.

And I have to admit that I didn’t know what I was getting into at first. Before moving to Arezzo, eastern Tuscany. I’d only spent a few weeks in the region. I moved quite unexpectedly, because of my Italian husband’s job.

Obviously everyone’s experiences will be different. But from what I've discovered so far, here’s the truth about living in Tuscany.

Property is usually expensive

… but not always.

Tuscany is well known for being an expensive region to buy a house, because of its enormous popularity.

That doesn’t mean there are no affordable properties on the market at all. But you might have to scale down, look in a small village or remote area, or get ready to do some serious renovation work. The Italian property market is full of old, unloved houses going for a song, and Tuscany is no exception.

Life in Tuscany isn't all sunshine and fields of sunflowers. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local

Areas around Florence and Siena are among the most expensive. While eastern Tuscany, for example, is cheaper - with the exception of some towns like Cortona, where many estate agents target foreign buyers and prices are usually through the roof.

Wherever you look, be aware that prices are often inflated and you can probably bargain a little harder than you think.

It’s easy to escape the tourist crowds

If you’ve visited Tuscany on holiday you’ll know how gorgeous places like Florence, Pisa and Siena are in summer. But you’re not the only one who thinks so. The crowds get unbearable in peak season and areas around the popular sights can feel a lot like Disneyland.

But living here isn't like that at all (unless for some reason you want it to be.)

If you want to live somewhere cheaper and quieter, and where pineapple pizza is not taken seriously as a menu item, you don’t have to go far.

Silence in the streets of Arezzo in August. Photo: Clare Speak/The Local

There are countless other Tuscan towns and villages untouched by mass tourism, and lots of those country houses in need of renovation are in quiet, remote locations. Even Arezzo is nearly tourist-free. The streets in August are eerily quiet here, as the mostly Italian residents are all on their long summer holidays.

However, before you buy that villa in the middle of nowhere, it’s worth remembering that culture shock and isolation send plenty of would-be expats packing. Are you sure you want to be the only foreigner in the village?

Not every part of Tuscany is idyllic

The first time I saw factories belching out smoke in the middle of the gorgeous Tuscan countryside I was a bit surprised. What, here? But like everywhere else, things like pollution, traffic and noise can be a problem.

In Florence, the traffic is famously heavy, parking nearly impossible and accommodation expensive. Parking is a nightmare almost everywhere, and some quaint old town centres sit under a haze of exhaust fumes as drivers circle around looking for a space.

If you’ve only been to Tuscany on holiday before it can be surprise to find that a lot of people live in concrete tower blocks, work in factories and shop at the supermarket, just like they do back home (but with nicer weather!)

Photo: Clare Speak/The Local

There’s no better place to learn Italian

Central Tuscany is famously the birthplace of what's now known as the Italian language, after Dante Alighieri first formalized the local tongue in his writing. And today Tuscany, especially Florence, is a popular place to study Italian on intensive courses or as part of univercity studies.

The Italian you’ll learn in the classroom however will be quite different to what you’ll hear on the streets, so expect a crash course in both Italian and Fiorentino - or the local dialect of whichever town you’re in!

People are fiercely proud

Speaking of local accents and dialects, people here are extremely proud of them. I haven’t met many people from Tuscany who aren't dying to tell you exactly which neighbourhood of which town they were born in – and almost definitely still live in.

Big towns in particular, like Florence, Siena or Arezzo, have strong identities, forged over centuries of warring with their neighbours and still proudly displayed today by locals.

But the warlike behaviour didn’t end there. Each town has deep-seated and bitter rivalries between different quartieri (neighbourhoods) and these were the basis for events like Siena’s palio horse race, or Arezzo’s giostra del saracino jousting competition, in which the town’s quartieri compete.

And these are no genteel reenactments put on for the tourists – I’ve seen more rage and violence between rival supporters at the giostra than at most football matches.

There’s a saying that people are loyal to their campanile (belltower) – or the tiny hamlet where they grew up. So if you feel the same love for the place you’ve chosen to call home, you’ll fit right in.

It can be hard to make friends

Local ones, anyway. Some people tell me they were welcomed by their neighbours, others said they ended up making more friends within an expat community.

In my case, it hasn't been easy. Even with passable language skills and an Italian husband (from a different region), I can't say I've really "integrated" yet.  There aren't many expats in my town and local people are apparently well known for moving in closed circles. There are, of course, exceptions.)

People are noticeably more reserved here than in Rome or southern Italy. To fit in and make friends here, you'll need to make a bit of effort.

The food might not be what you think

Tuscan cuisine is famously excellent. We read about it all the time in glossy food and travel magazines. Or do we? I'm not sure what I was expecting exactly, but I didn't know it was going to be quite this, well, rustic.

I'd order what I thought was a salad and get a plate of unpeeled vegetables with the dirt still clinging to them. I questioned my Italian comprehension when waiters rattled off long lists of unappetising specials: fried brains, liver, tripe or cow's stomach.

And don't even get me started on the unsalted bread. 

This is the famous Tuscan cuisine? I thought, At the risk of provoking fury, I admit I wasn't impressed.

I'm getting used to it. Now I love my pappardelle al cinghiale (thick pasta ribbons in wild boar ragu) with a glass of the same strong Chianti that I once described as rocket fuel. But I'll pass on the lampredotto (the fourth and final stomach of a cow) for the moment, thanks.

Photo: Clare Speak/The Local

There will be no shortage of wine

No buts. Living in Tuscany is a dream come true for wine lovers. Whether you’re a fan of the strong “super Tuscans” or prefer a Brunello di Montalcino or Cortona Syrah, you could easily spend a lifetime at wine tastings and vineyards here without getting bored. And making your own wine is always a possibility, if you’re up for the challenge! 

It gets very hot – and very cold

If you come to Tuscany in summer, it’s not unusual for the temperature to hit 40 degrees. Or more. So maybe it’s not surprising that many people imagine it’s warm and sunny here all year round.

But as anyone who lives here will tell you, that’s not the case. Winter is cold here, and from October to March you can expect plenty of fog, rain, wind, and occasionally, snow. Suddenly, living in an old stone house in the Tuscan countryside isn’t quite as pleasant.

Expect the unexpected

It's difficult to tell anyone what they can expect from life in Tuscany. Living in any part of Italy can seem random and chaotic at times, and for me life in Tuscany is full of surprises.

From old Tuscan men speeding down the street on tiny bicycles to unexpected street parades blocking the traffic, or families of wild boar roaming around, you never know what you're going to see next around here.

One thing living here has definitely taught me is how to relax and go with the flow - because there’s really no other way.

Photo: Clare Speak/The Local

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